16 October 2017

Forever Books: A Review of Summerlong, Peter S. Beagle

Eighty-nine dollars of credit at the local science fiction bookstore, and this girl has no idea what to buy. Heart-wrenchingly annoying, my inability to commit to book-buying has brought me to this rather frazzled day. A library soul, the concept of a forever-book seems a tad sinful. What if I bring home something I hate, or worse, never read again. That 'never to be read again' tagline, beats deep down in my reading-heart, sighing for every sentence lost in time, and memory. 

My home library has some duds - annoying hard-covers that have bullied themselves onto the shelves, smugly gathering dust, showcasing lack of purpose. I stare them down monthly, ready to trek them all off to the second-hand bookstore to retract, overwhelmed with ownership guilt. And so they sit, as do I, contemplating readable-worthy book purchasing while the sun slowly glints through the fall foliage and the winds gather momentum.   

I am longing for Summerlong by Peter S Beagle. This is a book I had no intention of walking home with, but having surmised that the clerk may indeed be someone of merit, I bought it based on her recommendations. The walk home from the bookstore was grey. Spring had yet to bud, and my reading inclinations swayed to more science fiction hearty fair than Summerlong's fantastical promises. And yet I brought this little bound beauty home, to be promptly forgotten until this September. 

Situated on small island outside of Seattle, Abe and Joanna live their quiet lives, happily unmarried, weathering life's problems together. Until that day, walking into their favourite restaurant they meet Lioness and waltz into a fairy-tale. As with fairy-tales there is the light and the dark - what we hold dear, can be lost and from that loss, creation. 

Peter S. Beagle wrote the most acclaimed fantasy novel of our times, The Last Unicorn in 1968. Not a fantasy reader, my curiosity had me summoning the book through the library system to sit down one afternoon, to be thoroughly stunned. There are few first chapters written that attain a level of wonder found in The Last Unicorn. But this is my ode to Summerlong, a book forgotten, that brought me great joy as the Toronto September temperatures soared, and my summer seemed to last forever.  

Summerlong, Beagle's most recent and more accessible novel is perfection. Every word has purpose, each tangled detail, sculpts the characters into being, each chapter reflects the complexity of life. There are few authors who can properly assimilate the world of myth and gods into present day fiction without the story becoming overwhelmingly supernatural. The unimaginative becomes real - that what modern civilization has forgotten is summoned forth in Summerlong. 

A gem, something to be cherished, re-read and shared, Peter S. Beagle's Summerlong proudly sits on my book-shelf. 

9 October 2017

What goes well with turkey: Review of Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel


Facing a second turkey dinner at 3 this afternoon, my perspective towards life is rather tilted. Dare I admit that the very last thing I wish to do is trundle off in a car for 2 hrs to eat said bird? Even more accurate do I dare admit that in fact, I will gladly sit in said car for those very 2 hrs, just so I can eat another turkey dinner. What is worse, showcasing gluttony or restraint? Like so many Canadians on this weekend, we buck up the courage, find semi-decent comfy pants and pull the dining chair up to a highly orchestrated dinner, circumnavigating familial undercurrents and  (un) necessary glasses of wine.  Yes, Thanksgiving Monday is upon me. What the hell am I going to read?

This past September has been a fury of reading activity. Having spent the summer nose deep in whodunits, I gleefully jumped into my geeky persona, reading all the sci-fi things. A friend recently asked me as a non-science fiction reader, where should she start? Enduringly difficult, I stumbled trying to dissimulate the genre into a tightly bound reference guide that she could dip her reading toes into without feeling sullied by the experience. Seriously, when she dropped Phillip K Dick as a starting point, I almost walked into a tree from dismay - of all the places to start, start current, I say, or at least with Herbert. 

Looking for a fully engaging, fast-paced science fiction story that takes place on present day Earth, try Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants. A young girl falls into a hole in the forest to wake nestled in the palm of an enormous glowing hand. Exploring the classic aliens-as-gods science fiction trope, Neuvel's The Themis Files left me anxiously waiting for May, 2018 when the final novel in the trilogy is to be released. 

The story reveals itself dramatically through interviews and press releases. The ability to literally tear through a book in a day is highly probable and somewhat satisfying. If there is ever a book to disengage from the turkey doldrums it is this. Whether I like this trilogy is debated, as there are key elements to the plot and characters that have left me unhappy. Yet, I leave my final review to the third book, gladly basking in the manic reading fury that captured my imagination. Not every book needs to be Dune, sometimes being entertained is enough.

2 September 2017

The Burden of Einstein: A Review of The Lost Time Accidents, John Wray

Eight degrees celsius and summer isn't even embarrassed enough to send an apologetic bouquet of flowers. Waking to October weather on only the second day of September has left me less than - while these past months have simultaneously streamed by in a slow, molasses drippy way I am befuddled this Labour Day long weekend. With school out, and a kid at home, summer has literally been walks to the park but after 8 glorious weeks of those very walks, one more weekend spent cavorting on the monkey bars seems anything but awesome. So what to do, in a city this size surely there are options - The Canadian National Exhibition, an air show, ComicCon, a busker festival. On paper, all are tantalizing amazing until you realize that with you will be thousands of other human beings, clamouring to make this last summer moment the very best. 

We are staying home. 

The kiddo just snuck by with a butter knife, a chunk of ice in a tupperware container and a mission. Normally, I would be on that before he even opened the freezer door but this weekend, the last weekend before school a parent needs a pair of ignore lenses. Fun fact, a seven-year-old talks all day. Adorable, until you realize that by talk I refer to the information that only a parent can love or at least visualize inspiring for approximately 4 weeks. By week 5, you are buying a bike, securing a helmet and instructing road safety. By the middle of next week, the verbatim that drove me to the gin will retrospectively be missed. Currently, as the alarming sounds of ice being chipped in the master bedroom echoes throughout the house, I acquiesce to all the little boy shenanigans. 

With the inevitable questions of how summer was spent and what was read pass through the school ground parental greetings, I surmise yet again my reading pile will have little relevance but to a few. As with every summer, I hang my geeky cloak to done my Nancy Drew cardigan. My science fiction reading life has become a full-time passion thus a vacation from the weird is not only appreciated but required. True, dipping into the worlds of murder might seem just as odd, the classic whodunnit is this girl's idea of relaxation. Having spent six months grappling with a review for The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray and spectacularly failing, slipping into the life of a Venetian police commissioner seems irresistible.

It's not like I disliked the The Lost Time Accidents, yet here I sit incapable of solidifying my opinions of a book that kept me irksomely engaged. John Wray plays with time, history and the inevitable fear of being on the wrong side of both. What if your entire family life pursuit was for naught? 

We open with Waldermar 'Waldy' Tolliver lost outside of time, perplexingly stranded in his eccentric Aunts' New York apartment pondering and successfully leading the readers to question what the lost time accidents are. And it is this that we are pushed back and forth through history, early 20th century Vienna to present day periodically slipping out of the time stream to grapple with the Tolliver's extensive family secrets. It is a complicated plot, a novel thick with beautiful prose that inevitably weighs the reader down. Yet I twisted gladly along, gathering more clues, meeting new members of the Tolliver clan, triumphantly understanding the lost time accidents to suddenly finish the book in complete bafflement.

Inevitably, the book becomes too complicated. Excited to read a novel that spans across decades, taking us into the heart of Vienna, drawing down into the darkness of World War II all the while exploring time itself promised to be the perfect read. Yet it failed somehow, maybe the truths of the universe can only be properly surmised through the purity of mathematics. 

6 May 2017

Transformation: A Review of Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky

As our resident Elm is tussled by rainy wind, I have been contemplating the process of transformation. When I quit my nine to fiver, announcing publicly that my time was now my own, I focused intensely on the present. That first summer before the little one entered school stretches out into one long sunny joy bubble. It was a celebration of life one unbothered by schedules or boxed into quick week-end activities. My decision to quit was less a knee-jerk response to an unhappy work-life, rather it was the fulcrum of a life plan the hubby and I embarked on the moment we became naive parents. When the child entered school I would  be home. It wasn't a secret, I voiced it loudly, yet the moment it became a reality shock, fear and even anger started to whisper about me. The corporate reactions were generally easy to unravel, and as I dropped that last bundle of files off at my director's office I felt unhinged with happiness.

And then the questions started to bounce around me from all corners of my social sphere - But what do you do all day? 

Bewilderingly, being a Mom wasn't an adequate reply. Passively aggressive, that query haunted my thoughts, undermining my sense of self. I spun stories of writing ambitions, quickly adding the tagline that I used to work. Walks home from the playground, grateful for the time invested with my son were tinged with embarrassment. What did, I do all day?

As those first few months piled up into a year, and that year has now become three, I know not only who I am, but why being a Mom will always be enough. The moment I realized that the answer I sought was an impossibility, I was released. Margaret Atwood while being interviewed on the CBC radio program, Q discussed how once a novel is published, it's no longer in the writer's hands but in the hands of the reader's, subjective to a myriad of interpretations. How I spend my day, or even navigate my way through motherhood has little to do with anyone but those within my family capsule. I write my own life, how you wish to value it is completely within your own realm. 

Navigating the writing world, I marvel at how far I had to emotionally go to finally become myself. High-school defined me as the resident poet, shipped off to day camps to hone my skills, crafting essays stamped with acceptance by all my teachers. Weaving together words to create a tapestry of stories is my concept of art. I agonize in word choice, despair in trite sentiments, ponder better ways to connect my life to that spider book I just read. My complete adoration of the written word manifests itself through Thank the Maker, it was time to accept who I am, a writer.  

First crack at the SF genre, and Adrian Tchaikovsky walks away in 2016 with the Arthur C. Clarke - Britain's premier SF award for Children in Time. The hubby has voiced his wonder how I connect motherhood to sci-fi, admittedly it can be an interesting process. By page 58, Children of Time had traipsed me across two thousand years, destroying Earth, marooning my thoughts with a lone scientist above a terraformed planet that consequentially is crawling with spiders budding into sentience. The obvious connections seemed lacking as I woke, overwhelmed with spider societal dreams, pondering the transformation of living nightmares into accepting images of alien speciation. 

Earth is a husk - pulverized by war, no longer a safe harbour for humanity. Those who have survived the ice age, try to glean information from ancient technology that highlighted homo sapiens progressive golden age. The spaceships follow star charts, desperate in the belief that a new home will be found. And a new home is found, unfortunately it is occupied.

Children of Time is a master work of science fiction. A hefty tome, it seamlessly navigates from spiders to humans, mirroring each species transformations of survival. Adrian Tchaikovsky has tackled evolution successfully, wrapping it all up in a neat bow with eight legs. Of late, I have come to love a well-written Arc book - human expansion aboard multi-generational space ships designed solely for species longevity. What with the spiders, and a desperate ship of Earth's children trying to survive, you have a juggernaut of a novel. It will turn your perceptions of intelligence on end, revealing the wonders of life, the need to protect our only home. Children of Time is unapologetically science fiction. It is fun, easily readable, highly engaging, a good read for any long weekend. 

28 March 2017

So, It's Weird: A Review of The Destructives, Matthew De Abaitua

With the child suddenly invited to evening events, we, his parents, have discovered the 5:30 dinner date. Maybe this is how the early bird special spun out of control - tired parents, wanting to drink they buns off but unwilling to sacrifice sleep. At our most recent pre-sunset hot date, I attempted to describe The Destructives. Even with the table sprinkled with half empty cocktails, my husband's vacant stare had less to do with the upended bevies and everything to do with my weirdness. I am weirdo. I enjoy 9:00 p.m bedtimes, hours of bench sitting, an aversion to movie-watching, a lust for Survivor and an overarching desire to read really weird shit.

My shadowing of the shadow jury for the Arthur C. Clarke award has created a conundrum. Thank the Maker at its design heart is to persuade my small tribe of friends to read science fiction. I read, it's my lot in life and yet 99% of those I call dear dislike SF. As I cloak myself in the shadows of the Clarke award, the intentions of my posts move further from being actualized. No one, beyond a handful of right-minded nutters who I have managed to befriend are going to read any of these shadow books. How does one argue to the non-geeks that the hive-minded, city-wide jellyfish, living in the underground oceans of Europa that so happens to be humanity's key to survival is something they need to read on about? 

I have had my moments with magic, dragons, lyrical, historical alternative, dystopian futures but what sings true for this girl are the novels that go beyond my expectations - dangling science all the while blatantly ignoring known universal truths. Discovering an author willing to explore the boundaries of science fiction is the pulse that keeps the genre alive. Only science fiction can expand perceptions of humanity by alienating ourselves, deconstructing that what we hold dear, all in the hopes of coming closer to the meaning of life. 

Plus, space ships are cool. You know it.

The question begs to be asked, is Matthew De Abaitua's novel, The Destructives worth reading? The third installment of a lose, stand-alone type of trilogy, The Destructives finds humankind blunted, falling slowly into extinction as AI evolves as the dominant species. The world economy has been disrupted by a single loop (gif) of a mother hugging her teenage daughter. The Seizure is decades in the past, AI has decamped to the Sun, and our protagonist, Theodore Drown is working as professor at the University of the Moon. An anthropological expert on Pre-Seizure culture, Theodore is asked to investigate an archive of data. What follows is an epic tale of weirdness that frankly has left me incapable of properly expressing without dropping down some serious spoilers. 

Highly engaging novel, definitely perplexing, The Destructives is inescapably sci-fi. If you don't like weird shit, this weirdness is not for you. 

13 March 2017

Perspective: A Review of Central Station, Lavie Tidhar

My grade 11 Social Studies teacher once assigned a behavioural anthropologic essay from the viewpoint of an alien visiting Earth for only one day. What would resonate? Would alien observations of our daily interactions at high school devise an elaborate synopsis that we, as a race were uniquely programmed to respond to the sound of a bell? The furious scurryings, combined with anxiety to be late, surely humans must be bell responsive. I marvel upon the exercise's unique ability to showcase perspective, observations and facts.

Although, memory fails me regarding my original hypotheses, I currently would assert weather as the mundane provocateur. Find me a Canadian that has not been educated on the fine art of weather chatting. A recent visit to a small town in the Okanogan found me chatting with a a complete stranger about the heat. The act of him stopping in the middle of street to lean out of his window to jaw on about the humidity might seem alarming, for us Canucks it is simply the sweet charm of living up here. Don't want to come across as rude, go on about the rain.

Snowflakes swirl beyond my living room window. And while this scene would bring endless joy to my winter heart, I cringe as the snow begins to mound. Like Lavie Tidhar's novel, Central Station, perspective is the name of this game. My annual pilgrimage to the Sonoran desert looms, yet the current snow event parked over the north-east threatens my near future visit with cacti, the sun and my Mom. 

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar is the space story I had yet to read. Humanity has taken to the skies, terraforming the Moon, living subterraneanly on Mars, expanding beyond our current global vantage point. The Conversation, a vast, complex virtual force that can be traced back to the internet is as necessary as air to survive. History is dense, wars long forgotten continue to haunt the darkened alleyways in the form of abandoned cyborg soldiers - once humankind's heroes now their collective embarrassment. Babies are designed. Earth's horizon is marred by gigantic space stations - each a towering city, affecting localized weather patterns, breeding new religions, all the while offering the stars. 

" A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life  and virtual reality. The city is a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap and data is cheaper." - Central Station, Lavie Tidhar


Lavie Tidhar has created a far-reaching fantastical future that feels concurrently alarmingly exotic yet satisfyingly familiar. Within a short timespan we peak into the lives of an interwoven group of people, all, searching. The story of life, the need for acceptance, the desires and sorrows of the heart remain true, whatever the century. This is the story of the every man, woman, robot, sentient creature, data-vampire, that falls in love, finds religion, eventually losing both all the while managing to survive. It is the story of family - the need to remember and the cost of holding too dear to that very past. 

Central Station breathes new life into the genre - more so thanks to it's non-American slant, bringing this SF story to Tel Aviv, highlighting Judaic culture, mingling the elements of the migrant. Central Station is not an everyday space story, just as this does not appear to be your average snow storm. 

17 January 2017

So Many Things: A Review of The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts

It's gross outside - grey, rainy, cold, the perfect day for writing. Yet here I sit, barely able to cohesively construct a single sentence delaying this post with tedious chores. Once in awhile a book comes my way that seems impossible to review. With bashful chagrin, I simply might not be wily enough to express what the hell is going on in The Thing Itself.

Megan from Couch to Moon  insisted that Adam Roberts novel is the book I needed to read. Not one to ever ignore that lady's perception of a good read, I put it on my reading gift list this past holiday season. With a no-book buying policy, Christmas has become that day in December when books seem to fall from reading heaven. It is a glorious day made complete because of my husband's willingness to buy his geeky wife all her nerdy SF books. It's nice having a husband support your geeky ways, even knowing his life is in jeopardy if he were to crack a book spine or leave a copy splayed open. Our happy marriage hinges upon good book care and a willingness to hear each other's relationship with UFOs. He, being the intense believer, scanning the internet for new sightings and me, the woman who has agreed to move to Newfoundland the moment the invasion begins. 

But what about Kant....

Much to my puzzlement The Thing Itself's cover and synopsis desperately attempt to align to the cinematic horror, The Thing. Not surprisingly, The Thing so happens to be my husband's worst nightmare having imprinted a deep hatred for snow and psychotic aliens on him as a wee lad. Let me be clear, the novel is not an ode to the movie - for that read Peter Watts short story, The Things. Then once you have read that nightmare, drink some herbal tea while watching The Wizard of Oz. You will need a yellow-brick road to pull you from out of your catatonic state of terror. 

The Thing Itself familiarly opens to a research station in Antartica with two astrophysicists on a long-term contract to monitor SETI. This has got to be about The Thing, how can it not! But here is the thing, Adam Roberts may happen to be one of the best writers I have read in years. By relying upon the reader's attachment to the film, he masterfully displays Kant's theory of reality. It's brilliant but only conceivable once you have read the book. 

But really, what about Kant...

Immaniel Kant, an 18th century philosopher argued that humanities perception of reality is constructed by the mind. Space and time is not an objective universal constant but a reflection of our sensibilities. The world as itself is independent of these concepts and nearly impossible for humanity to even properly discern. It is heady stuff, not one for this girl to in any way proclaim proper understanding. Thankfully, Kant's  The Critique of Pure Reason  entwined with the Fermi Paradox is entertainingly confined within a possible first contact/suspense story. The very thing itself becomes slightly less murky because Adam Roberts is a writing genius.

I like this book quite a bit, so much that I believe that it is the book you need in your life. Have you ever wondered why SF readers enjoy SF so much? The Thing Itself quantifies all that is exciting in current science fiction. While I most definitely am getting beyond myself, The Thing Itself is this girl's read of 2017.

3 January 2017

Exploration: A Review of 2016

A walk through the neighbourhood, combined with an excursion to the local outdoor rink for family night skating, 2017 has been all of the things. As I climbed into bed on New Year's Eve, satisfyingly ignoring the festivities beyond my window, I woke to sun. 2016 was anything but kind to my family, the passing of my father left me emotionally stranded on a frozen, cracked lake. Incapable of expressing the abyss, I found solace in my family, gathering joy as I witnessed my son bounce through his weeks to Christmas. Although this new year will be my first without Dad, I see limitless avenues of happiness to explore. 

Finding purchase when your world tips askew can lend itself to new beginnings. My 2016 was a mismatch of personal goals wanting to get fit all the while reading and writing. My 50 novel reading channel was smashed by October with a final tally of 68. Site visits to Thank the Maker soared even with a lacklustre showing of only 21 reviews.

I became an Honor Harrington fan, obsessed over the generational ship in Aurora by Kim Stanly Robinson and swam in the poetry that is Station 11.  I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon with  The Fifth Season, and Aftermath. But with all my dalliances with the popular novel, I sank deeply into the odd, extravagantly rich world found in Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente.

I finally read Ursula's K Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and continue to chastise myself for all the years wasted by not opening this book. We all have moments where we could relive a reading moment:  Dune, War and Peace and now, The Left Hand of Darkness are mine. 2016 began with the YA apocalyptic novel, Archivist Wasp, and closed with The GraceKeepers; two novels dancing within a dystopian future, seeking salvation.

Sitting with my copy of Women of Futures Past I begin my 2017 reading year with the women of science fiction. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's introductory essay, Invisible Women was an awakening experience. Having never attended a 'con' nor dipped my toes into recent Hugo controversies, I was unaware of the struggles women writers have in being recognized. My space operatic tendencies entwined for a love of time travel books, results in me reading primarily female writers. I obviously live in a sheltered, reading world, one at which Bujold, Baker, Willis, Lord, Atwood, Lee, Walton, McCaffrey reign.

With the slow unfolding of all that 2017 will be, here is to the women of science fiction:  we are the readers, the writers, the buyers, the bloggers, the editors, the publishers. We are science fiction. Find the time this year to rejoice in all our womanly yet geeky tendencies. Start your journey with the reading of the short story Angel by Pat Cadigan. It's compact, engaging creepiness will leave you wondering who else you haven't explored.